Qigong is the latest health and fitness craze I won’t be trying

Personally, I'd rather bring back the Women’s League of Health and Beauty, which was founded in 1930 and spread like impetigo

Jenny Eclair
Monday 20 August 2018 12:48
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Hooray, there is a new fitness craze in town. Its name is as hard to spell as quinoa and sounds like it might be yet another Korean side dish involving fermented pickles, yum.

The word is “qigong” (pronounced cheegong) and rather than being anything edible, it’s the 5,000-year-old Chinese practice of keeping mind and body sane and well.

Listen, if it’s good enough for Iggy Pop, it’s good enough for me.

From what I can gather, qigong is a little bit like tai chi, infused with yoga, mixed with some moves called “walking on clouds” and “pushing mountains”. This kind of stuff is right up my ally, because it doesn’t involve moving very fast or very far, plus I did a bit of mime at drama school.

I’m 58 – two years younger than Madonna – but I like wine and cheese, and at the moment I am very sedentary because I’m trying to write another novel and as a result my buttocks are beginning to spill over the chair.

At the moment my exercise routine involves a bit of yoga, a weekly pilates/stretch class plus the occasional swim. I tried that zumba craze a couple of years ago but I was banned from my class after causing a pileup of multiple middle-aged women during which a pair of varifocals got broken.

What else? Oh, I hate running because I can’t – my knees feel like they’re going to break and for some reason my feet are as flexible as bricks. As for the gym, well – you know how some people really hate sprouts and no amount of telling them how great sprouts are will change their mind? Gyms are my sprouts. I will cry and be sick if you make me go.

Apparently the art of qigong should be practised outside, at dawn or dusk, wearing thin-soled shoes to maintain contact with the earth.

Hmm. That’s not going to work for me: at dawn I like to be fast asleep in my bed and at dusk I like to be sitting in front of the telly.

Also, the outdoors thing is fine if your background ambiance involves birds, trees and rivers, but I live in southeast London so it’s all sirens and swearing and anyway it looks like rain and my thin-soled shoes will go all soggy, so if you don’t mind we’ll bring it indoors and practise in the sitting room with a nice cup of coffee and maybe a little bit of cheese on a cracker.

What confuses me about exercise is that we always look to the ancient practices of other cultures for our fitness inspiration when we could just as easily revisit some of our own.

Personally, I fancy bringing back the Women’s League of Health and Beauty (men now welcome), which was founded by Mary Bagot Stack in 1930 and spread like impetigo.

The Women’s League movement was huge: rallies were held all over the country and in 1939, 5,000 female members of the League marched into Wembley Stadium in their knickers for a three-hour synchronised display of keep fit. Part Busby Berkeley routine, part school PT class, news footage of this event is worth checking out on YouTube.

Apart from the slight tinge of Nazism, there is a great deal about the league’s pursuit of supple muscle and the perfect figure that appeals to me. For starters there’s no running, just a great deal of reaching down to touch your toes, side bends, lying on the floor kicking your legs about and that exercise we all used to do to increase our busts when we were 14.

But as well as the PT stuff, the league also promoted prancing in circles holding hands with other members or waving silk handkerchiefs. Prancing is something I would be happy to sign up for: my favourite thing at school was “skipping through a woodland glade pretending to be a magic fairy” in musical movement classes.

What we also need to bring back to our fitness studios is the piano: nothing beats a fat man belting out marching music on an out of tune upright.

So while there’s nothing wrong with the yoga and the pilates and the qigong, let’s mix it up now and again with some good old-fashioned movement to music. Let’s get our doughball bods moving! Then comes the best part. We can curl up like kittens in a basket and fall right asleep.

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